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How Short Is Too Short? at Cabela's

How Short Is Too Short?

Author: Wayne Van Zwoll

Given the press on short rifle cartridges over the last couple of years, you’d think they’re not only important but new. Uh-oh. Since metallice cartridges appeared in the late 1800s, the trend has been to more power in smaller hulls.

Several black powder cartridges favored by post-Civil War hunters had cases over 3 inches long: the .38-90 and .40-110 Winchester, the .45-120 and .50-140 Sharps. Smokeless powder permitted smaller cases, because the propellant was so much more efficient than black powder. The first successful small-bore military rounds, circa 1887 to 1891, had cases less than 2 1/2 inches long: the 7.65 Belgian at 2.09, the 7.62 Russian at 2.11, the .303 British at 2.21. A 7.5x55 Swiss case mikes 2.18 inches, the 8x57 German Mauser 2.24. Our .30-40 Krag has a 2.31-inch case.

Hunting cartridges followed the trend of infantry rounds. In 1895 the .30-30 (2.04-inch case) was chambered in the Model 1894 Winchester. In 1913, Charles Newton delivered to Savage a new cartridge with a case 1.91 inches in length. Seven years later, Savage announced an even shorter round for its Model 1899 rifle. The .300 Savage hull measured 1.87 inches but packed 10 percent more power than a .30-30.

By this time, British gunmakers had designed several hunting cartridges for Cordite powder. They were long because Cordite came in spaghetti-like form. Three of them would influence the development of cartridges across the Atlantic. In 1910 Jeffery announced a rimless .404 that shot a 300-grain bullet at 2600 fps. A year later came Rigby’s .416 with a 410-grain bullet at 2370. In 1912, Holland and Holland brought out its .375 Magnum, firing a 270-grain softpoint at 2650. The .404 had a slightly rebated case 2.86 inches long, with a .544 base and .537 rim. The .416 Rigby was rimless with a .586 base and 2.90 overall length. The .375 H&H had a .532 belt ahead of the extractor groove and .532 rim; case diameter forward of the belt was .512. The belt, it was thought, served better than .375’s faint shoulder as a headspacing stop.

These and similar rounds delivered great reach and power. Scopes made 300-yard field accuracy possible. But wage-earners who couldn’t afford a Magnum Mauser found the British cartridges too long for surplus 1903 Springfield and 98 Mauser rifles. Then, in the early 1940s, short magnums appeared in the workshop of California insurance salesman Roy Weatherby. He reduced the taper on the Holland case to boost capacity, and cut it to 2 1/2 inches. Necking it down produced the .257, .270 and 7mm Weatherby Magnums. They’d fit any magazine designed for the .30-06 and .270.

Short magnums became popular Stateside in the late fifties, beginning with the .458 Winchester Magnum in 1956. Two years later came the .264 and .338. Cases measured 2.50 inches - as did the hull of the later 7mm Remington Magnum. The slightly longer (2.62-inche) .300 Winchester Magnum case went commercial in 1963, three years after Norma introduced its .308 and .358 Magnums (2.56 and 2.52 inches).

Even shorter high-performance rounds were already popping up. Olin announced a wide-bodied, rebated .284 in 1963. Essentially a .280 Remington designed for a .308-length action, the .284 was offered in Winchester Model 88 lever guns and Model 100 autoloaders, also Savage’s 99. At the same time, a pair of belted short-action rounds incubated at Remington. The .350 and 6.5 Magnums appeared in 1965 and 1966, matched to homely 600-series carbines that did not sell well.

On the benchrest circuit, however, a very short cartridge was about to make history. Competitors Lou Palmisano and Ferris Pindell reshaped the .220 Russian (a necked-down 7.62x39) to form what would become the .22 PPC. That was in 1974; a 6mm PPC would soon follow. From base to 30-degree shoulder, these hulls measured barely over an inch, though basal diameter approached that of the .30-06. Palmisano figured that the shorter the powder column would yield better accuracy. Proving the PPC’s superiority over the established .222 and 6x47, in a game dominated by one-hole groups, would be tough... But in surprisingly short order, Palmisano and Pindell convinced colleagues to try the new rounds. Two of the top 20 rifles in the Sporter class at the 1975 NBRSA championship matches were chambered to PPCs. By 1980, 15 of the top 20 shooters had a PPC on the line. In 1989 all of the highest Sporter scores were shot with PPCs, plus every one of the top 20 in the Unlimited class and 18 of the 20 best in Light and Heavy Varmint.

In 1992, short rimless magnum rounds appeared in Don Allen’s Dakota line. The 7mm, .300, .330 and .375 Dakotas, based on the .404 Jeffery, measure 2.50 to 2.57 inches, but hold more fuel than belted magnums. The .300’s 97-grains (water) capacity is just 3 grains shy of the full-length .300 Weatherby’s.

John Lazzeroni’s first ventures into cartridge design, in the mid 1990s, yielded a stable of gigantic rimless rounds. Then John embarked on a new project: short cases based on the full-length rounds. Bases for his .243 and .264 short cartridges mike .532, standard dimension for an ordinary belted magnum like the 7mm Remington, and same as the head on Lazzeroni’s long .257 Scramjet. The short 7mm, .300, .338 and .416 have .580 heads, like their full-length counterparts. John used metric measures to name these hotrods:
6.17 (.243) Spitfire: 85-grain bullet at 3618 fps 6.71 (.264) Phantom: 120-grain bullet at 3312 fps 7.21 (.284) Tomahawk: 140-grain bullet at 3379 fps 7.82 (.308) Patriot: 180-grain bullet at 3184 fps 8.59 (.338) Galaxy: 225-grain bullet at 2968 fps 10.57 (.416) Maverick: 400-grain bullet at 2454 fps

By then, Winchester had already announced its .300 WSM. Slightly longer and, with a .532 base, not quite as broad as the Lazzeroni Patriot, the .300 Winchester Short Magnum performs like a belted .300 Winchester Magnum (the "short" magnum introduced in 1963 that now seems quite long!). At 2.76 inches, a .300 WSM loaded round barely reaches the mouth of the .300 Winchester case.

Browning apparently approached Winchester with the idea for the WSM early in 1999. Browning and U.S. Repeating Arms Company (USRAC, manufacturer of Winchester firearms) redesigned their bolt-action big game rifles for the .300 WSM, initially loaded with a 180-grain Fail Safe 2970 fps and 150-grain Ballistic Silvertip at 3300 fps. Muzzle energy exceeds 3500 and 3600 ft-lbs. Though it got the jump on Remington in announcing its first short magnum, Winchester did not then register a 7mm. Remington soon announced a .300 and a 7mm Short Action Ultra Mag, the .300 ballistic twin to the .300 WSM. Just enough shorter to fit comfortably in a Model Seven action, the Remington rounds hold slightly less powder. Promptly, Winchester followed with a .270 WSM and a 7mm WSM.

This past year, Winchester brought new meaning to "short" with its Super Short Magnums. Both the .223 and .243 WSSMs are based on the .300 WSM - trimmed from 2.10 to 1.67. Next to the .22 Super Short, a .22-250 cartridge looks tall. But there’s more capacity in Winchester’s new case - enough to give the .223 WSSM a 200 fps advantage over the .22-250. Factory loads include a 55-grain Ballistic Silvertip (Supreme), a 55-grain Pointed Soft Point and 64-grain Power-Point (Super-X). WSSM cartridges spurred development of super short-action Browning A-Bolt and Winchester M70 rifles.

I like short cartridges. They’re efficient, delivering the velocity of longer rounds with less fuel. A shorter powder column means more complete burning inside the case, which means less ejecta, less recoil. Short cases fit in short actions, for a small weight savings and shorter bolt throw. Given the PPC’s history, short cartridges can be accurate (I once fired a 1 1/2-inch group at 300 steps with a Browning A-Bolt in .270 WSM that wanted to shoot one-holers at 200). But all these advantages are mainly academic. You likely won’t feel lighter recoil or a couple of ounces less weight, a shorter throw or better accuracy. You might notice bumpy feeding, as the stubby cases try to climb into the chamber. WSSMs are particularly reluctant.

To my knowledge, I shot the first elk ever killed with a .270 WSM and a .300 SUM, probably the first killed with a 8.59 Lazzeroni Galaxy. I’ve shot deer with the .223 WSSM, Australian buffalo with the 7mm WSM and African eland, kudu and gemsbok with .300 WSM. My experience isn’t extensive, but it’s adequate for an opinion: I like the short magnums as well as the belted magnums whose performance they duplicate, but not a whole lot better. The WSSMs produce top velocities for their diameters; however, I wish they’d feed smoother. We may not be making cartridges too short yet, but we’re mighty close.